Shark Identification Workshop with the FWC Research Institute

Have you ever seen a shark on one of your dives?

It was a bull shark, wasn’t it?

They’re not all bull sharks! Jim’s Dive Shop in St. Pete partnered up the the FWC Fish and Wildlife Institute for a shark identification workshop, and it went just swimmingly. *I ❤ puns*
This hands-on workshop explained shark anatomy, including how to differentiate between a male and a female (claspers ewwww).  We reviewed how to identify several species of shark common to Florida Gulf waters using a dichotomous key.

dichotomous key

It was set up exactly like my Ichthyology practical exam, and the smell of ethanol was unbecomingly nostalgic.


shark science


FWC experts discussed shark fisheries and how scientists are trying to manage many declining shark populations. We got to play with actual shark specimens from the FWC collection museum.


Florida is the fishing capital of the world, with hundreds of shark species varying in size, shape, and behavior. Shark populations are regulated and managed by both federal and state wildlife agencies. Regulations differ amongst species, including size and bag limits, landings, and management plans. These are all becoming more species-specific in an effort to sustain fishery populations for future generations.

Some definitions:


Bag limit: “..the number of a particular species that an individual angler can harvest and possess in a given day” – Florida Wildlife Magazine

Vessel limit: “…the maximum number of a particular species that can be possessed on a vessel at any given time” – Florida Wildlife Magazine

Landing: the catching of marine fish in foreign or domestics ports


Caudal fin: the “tail” fin

Clasper: it’s as terrifying as it sounds

Dorsal fin: the fin on the “top” of the fish, the one you see when the JAWS music comes on

Interdorsal ridge: “a visible line of raised skin between dorsal fins” – NOAA. (Just gently run your finger along the spine of the shark while you look at your underwater dichotomous key.)

Pectoral fin: the boob fins (foremost lower fins)

Pelvic fin: the hip fins (rear lower fins)


Spiracle: a shark breathing hole

In order to correctly follow the rules, you must learn to properly identify fish species, including sharks. Educate yourself to avoid the harvest or killing of prohibited species whose populations are already in danger.


shark girls
Teresa Hattaway, Michelle Bell, and Nancy Sheridan

A little about the speakers (from Jim’s Dive Shop):

Brent L. Winner
Associate Research Scientist
Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Brent has been a fisheries scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for 27 years. He received his bachelors’ degree in zoology from Iowa State University and his masters’ degree in marine biology, specializing in sharks, from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He’s caught, studied, and published scientific papers on a variety of Florida fish species including red drum, snook, sheepshead, snappers, groupers, sharks, and rays. Brent has served on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Shark Technical Committee for the past ten years, and has participated in cooperative shark studies, including numerous research cruises with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) APEX Predator Program. Brent has also worked with local media related to shark and ray issues throughout his career and has appeared on the Animal Planet’s show Untamed and Uncut.

fwc nancy sheridan

Nancy Sheridan
Biological Scientist IV
Division of Marine Fisheries Management
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Nancy has been with the FWC for over 15 years working with commercial fisheries data, including marine aquarium trade organisms, and presently as the Southwest Regional Biologist for the FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management, which is the group tasked with marine fisheries rulemaking for both recreational and commercial fishing. She received her bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of South Florida (USF) and is currently working on her Ph.D. in integrative biology at USF. Nancy has studied and published scientific papers on Florida species such as sea anemones, nudibranchs, and gastropods. She has also given many talks related to marine fisheries management, including several specific to shore-based shark fishing.

Featured Photo Credit: Ryan Nelson of Tanks-a-Lot Dive Charters

Resources: <– click here for a list of shark species that can be retained/are prohibited

Nurse Shark Video in Key Largo, Florida


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